At 11:30 a.m. in Paris on Wednesday, January 7th, two masked gunmen attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a left-leaning satirical magazine, killing twelve people. One of the twelve killed was the editor, Stephane Charbonnier. The two gunmen, brothers named Cherif and Said Kouachi, fled the scene, flinging the city into chaos. While French police searched for them for two days, copycat attacks occurred throughout Paris. The following day two people were killed in the suburb Montrouge by a gunman carrying a machine gun and a pistol. That Friday, not only were the two surrounded and killed in a printing firm twenty-two miles outside of the city but another attacker, a man named Amedy Coulibaly, took several people hostage at a Jewish supermarket in the urban neighborhood Porte de Vincennes; he was later killed by special forces. It is believed that he had a partner who helped him perpetrate the murders in Montrouge. The Charlie Hebdo gunmen were later discovered to be a part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network,” a group that helped send would-be jihadists to fight for al-Qaeda in Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003. It is named after an area of northern Paris where an Islamic mosque is located. In fact, all four suspects are believed to be connected to the Islamic religion.
Charlie Hebdo is a magazine known for stretching the limits of taste and free speech and it has featured covers that lewdly portray the Prophet Muhammad. Witnesses heard the Kouachi brothers scream, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” and “God is great” after their killings in the Charlie Hebdo office. These covers have angered the Muslim community of France before. In fact, in 2011 the magazine’s offices were destroyed by Islamic terrorists using firebombs. However, this most recent attack is the bloodiest, leading some to question whether or not the magazine should continue drawing this major religious figure in an indecent manner. In reference to the attacks Pope Francis said, “In theory we can say a violent reaction to an offense or provocation isn’t a good thing… In theory we can say that we have the freedom to express ourselves. But we are human. And there is prudence, which is a virtue of human coexistence.” Others have stood firmly behind the magazine and its right to free speech, prompting the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) to become popular on Twitter. In its first publication since the attacks Charlie Hebdo once again featured a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad, but this time he is standing underneath the headline “Tout est Pardonné” (All is Forgiven), holding up a sign with “Je Suis Charlie” written on it.
The Charlie Hebdo case is one that impacts everyone in a free country today, not just major publications and journalists. When is enough enough? At what point does satire that is meant to provoke thought and commentary end and plain old insult begin? In 1941 the Supreme Court ruled that expressions that “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are not protected by the First Amendment. As college students it is vital for us to keep an open mind and criticize the status quo. There comes a time when we must step back, take a look at our work whatever it may be, and consider the consequences of our words.
by ERIN HADJUK / News Editor